By ARDEN BASTIA In 2013, Liz Duggan found herself with an excess of hotel toiletries and amenities after a series of business trips. Unsure of what to do with the extra shampoos and body washes, she donated the amenities to shelters and discovered the
In 2013, Liz Duggan found herself with an excess of hotel toiletries and amenities after a series of business trips. Unsure of what to do with the extra shampoos and body washes, she donated the amenities to shelters and discovered the high demand of hygiene supplies.
That’s when Amenity Aid was born, a non-profit that collects and distributes hygiene supplies to shelters and organizations throughout the state in an effort to curb hygiene poverty.
On Thursday, Duggan was overjoyed to celebrate the grand opening and ribbon cutting of Amenity Aid’s first headquarters on Jefferson Boulevard.
Duggan, who’s been working on Amenity Aid’s mission for eight years, quit her job in March to take the risk to expand the organization.
“We’ve moved into this office space and the last five months have been incredible,” she shared on Thursday. “When I got started, I didn’t know if anybody would support me or listen to me. I was young; it was in my 20s. But fast forward a few years later and we’ve built something I’m so proud of.”
Amenity Aid operates much like a food bank. Hygiene supplies and personal care items are collected from drives and donations, and then packaged into kits by a team of 40 volunteers.
Just recently, Duggan said the organization received a donation of 800 products from CVS, and another large donation from Bradford Soap. Amenity Aid also accepts donations from business travelers, like Duggan, who find themselves with extra products.
“We’re focused on creating equitable access,” Duggan shared on Thursday. “That means we work with organizations to ask what do people need? They can call me anytime to ask for items.”
For example, Duggan explained that certain shelters or organizations “have cultural differences around period products so we make to give them exactly what they need, whether they prefer pads or tampons.”
Jessica Salter, chief philanthropy officer from the Amos House, attested to Amenity Aid’s commitment to giving organizations what they need.
“Each year we give out over 15,000 hygiene packets to folks that walk through our doors, and I can tell you that the line item in our budget to cover that service is zero,” said Salter on Thursday. “The beauty of having a relationship with an organization like Amenity Aid is literally it takes me 10 seconds. I open up an email to Liz and I say we’re in desperate need of X, Y, or Z, and it’ll be ready for us to pick up in two days.”
Before the headquarters opened, Duggan was running the Amenity Aid operation from her garage and volunteers were dropping off donations around the state. With this new facility, Duggan says they can “expand the operation and provide a central location, hopefully bringing in more volunteers.
In 2020, Amenity Aid provided toiletry necessities on-demand for ten local non-profits, including the Amos House, Crossroads Rhode Island, the House of Hope, Operation Stand Down, and the Sojourner House.
Just last year, Amenity Aid was able to deliver hygiene essentials to 19,594 people, distributing a total of 35,594 hygiene products.
While Duggan says she hasn’t analyzed the numbers for this year yet, “they’ve almost doubled from last year in just the past six months.”
If Amenity Aid ever reaches a surplus, Duggan has created the Overstock Outreach program that delivers extra hygiene kits to a network of 20 to 30 non-profits throughout the state.
Since the start of the pandemic, Duggan says she’s seen the need for hygiene products and kits increase about 60 percent.
Stacey Silva, Amenity Aid board member who first joined as a volunteer, said she was surprised at the increase due to COVID. “It was very quick and fast, and it came on really hard. We spent a lot of time figuring out how to handle that, pushing for more donations and peer fundraising because we couldn’t do our own fundraising and we didn’t have the manpower.”
Silva said while product donations are “incredibly helpful” monetary donations to Amenity Aid can go even farther.
Silva also shared on Thursday that the group is gearing up for Operation Stand Down Weekend on September 17 and 18. Amenity Aid will be providing veterans will full-size hygiene kits.
“We have kits for men and women, some products vary a bit,” Silva explained. “They get all of our full-size hygiene products. Men get 3-in-1 wash, shampoo, razors, shaving cream, toothbrush, toothpaste, and dental floss. Women get shampoo, conditioner, a bar of soap, and the rest of the items as well.”
“I think what most people don’t realize is that these items are not covered by EBT or SNAP benefits,” Duggan said. “The entire demand for hygiene products falls on the shoulders of non-profits. Community groups have a hard time sourcing those products for many, many reasons.”